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Welcome to the show Marketing Matters. This is a great opportunity for me to interview some of the brightest minds in marketing, particularly in tech marketing and Internet marketing.
On today's show, I'm going to be interviewing Lief Koepsel. I've actually known Lief for a number of years.
We worked together. Lief, in many ways, was my mentor when I decided to learn something about channel marketing.
We had the opportunity to work together for a while at SonicWall, a network security company.
Then he moved on and he headed up teams, not only at SonicWall, but at Cisco and Hewlett Packard and has really been one of the thought leaders in the channel marketing space, particularly in networking and security.
Welcome to the show, Lief.
It's great to have you here. Thank you. Glad to be here. You were telling me you actually watched a show or two beforehand to get an idea of what I was inviting you to.
You saw Dave. Dave was the previous host. Dave's great. We're still friends.
His first question, I always loved it, so I've continued to do it, is have some fun with this.
Every comic book hero, villain, any major plot character always has a backstory.
Comic books are great about that. Put yourself in the shoes of a comic book character.
What's your backstory? How did you get to where you are in doing marketing?
What drew you into the channel part of it? That's a great way to ask the question because all of a sudden my mind was flashing on comic book frames.
The little kid crying, Batman crying over his parents dying and seeing the bat fly off and things like that.
Mine wasn't near as dramatic as that.
I was in college and my favorite class was strategic marketing. Loved it.
However, I got an electrical engineering degree and became an electrical engineer for a couple of years.
Did that really well for a while. From there, I went into sales.
Ironically, when I was in marketing in college, they said, no matter what, you're going to have to become a salesperson to become a marketing person, which I said, no way in hell I'm going to do that.
I did it. Five years as an engineer, 15 years as a sales guy, and then I got into marketing.
That combined background of engineering and sales really helped to make me a great strategic marketing guy.
I loved it. I'm doing now what I learned or what I had been doing in that class of strategic marketing so many years ago.
That's my story. If I remember right from our earlier conversation, at some point you may even become a professor and you may start teaching this whole heavily thing, right?
Well, it's funny. The thing I don't want to teach is marketing.
No, too much close to what I'm doing now.
What I do like to do, and you and I have a shared passion, is geek out on technology.
I'm getting back into the practical side of electrical engineering and working with a local community college to develop a curriculum on practical electronics and practical.
In the hacker space and maker space and Raspberry Pis and Arduinos and those types of things, that's what I started out as an engineer and I'm just returning to that.
Yeah, and that makes sense. I think I've shared this with you before, but when I went through college, I remember coming out and realizing that all the practical skills they taught us were outdated.
It was kind of a unique time, right?
It was the 90s, and so everything was transitioning very quickly to the Internet.
I learned AutoCAD, I learned Photoshop, I learned those types of tools, but we were using three, four-year earlier versions of it, but the technology had advanced so quickly that most of the skills that we learned coming out were not relevant or as relevant, I should say.
Focusing on that, I think, is a great add for you.
I think one thing I know about you is you take all the theory and what have you and you're able to actually implement that in a practical way.
I think that's one thing that kids coming out of college really need to have that they don't have in their quiver today.
Thanks. Another fun conversation you and I've had recently was this idea of trying to talk to people about what we do for a living, right?
You've got two sides of the coin. You have people who see the Apple ads and they think, oh my god, what you do is amazing, I love it, and then on the flip side, there's the used car salesman TV commercials and so they think that we're trying to sell them stuff that they don't want, but you actually have a pretty good way of describing what we do and why it's important.
Why don't you share that? Yeah, thanks because it's really important to me.
I mean, because my passion has been marketing for quite a few years and when I heard this phrase and read it and it really mattered to me and essentially marketing is creating value for your product or service in the eyes of the customer.
And so you just need to know, well, what does the customer want? What's the problem they're facing and how does your product help solve that problem?
And I think people get away from that.
They don't understand, it's like we're trying to bias them or prejudice them and what we're trying to do is help.
And years ago, I was at one of these technology sessions and some engineers proudly said they created this product without marketing and I'm thinking, well, then you created something that has no value to the customer because marketing is or that's all you did was phenomenal marketing and you just didn't know what you called it engineering.
But one way or the other, you're just simply marketing is creating value for whatever you have in the eyes of the customer.
Yeah, but you made me think of this.
I think I've mentioned a couple of times in the show and that's Tesla. Tesla is super interested because Elon gets up and says, we don't have marketing, we don't do marketing.
And in fact, actually him getting out there in front of people and pushing the product and doing crazy things like launching one of the cars into space and doing all the racing and things like that, that is marketing.
And then he made a really bold move earlier this spring and he went ahead and just eliminated his PR department completely.
And so there's nobody to talk to for the press.
And I think the first one was interesting because I feel like he's undervaluing what he's doing, which is marketing.
But then eliminating PR is dangerous in my opinion.
When you really look at that, it works okay when you don't have competition and people just kind of take you at face value.
But when all of a sudden you've got Riven and Ford and everyone else, Hyundai, I just saw this weekend had a really big push around electric vehicles.
When you have all these folks who really actually know how to leverage PR to sell a product, it's going to be interesting to see how competitive Tesla will be in a year or two with that.
And so your point about the engineer you're talking about at the party, I think that's the case.
But you know what? You and I have been in tech for so long. We know that this is the case when you come from a technology-driven company.
There is usually a suspicious, we'll leave it at that, there's a suspicion of marketing and the value we bring or don't bring.
And by the way, one of the ways you and I have both been successful in our careers has been showing that value.
And that's why coming together with the creative and the analytical side has been really powerful.
In fact, you touched on this a minute ago, but one of the things I think is interesting is if there's a nerdier marketer than me, it's you.
I think of myself as being pretty nerdy.
I take that as a high compliment, by the way. Absolutely.
How did you get into some of this stuff and talk to us about some of these side projects you do?
Well, here's an interesting one I was thinking about because this happened over the summer.
I was working with another student in a maker space and just helping them out.
And what they wanted to do, one of the ag companies, I lived down in Monterey near Salinas, and one of the ag companies wanted to use a raspberry pie and a camera to take a look at blueberries and identify green blueberries versus blue blueberries and then be able to understand the ratio of them so that they knew whether or not they're getting a good crop or not.
And so it involved photo analysis or image analysis or green and blue pixels.
And then I had to create a web-based system to upload all these images to the cloud.
And then we had to create a user interface so they could see all this stuff.
It was a massive project by two engineers.
One was a 21-year-old engineering student and one was an old guy, me.
It was fun, though. Towards the end, it was like, oh, my God. The first 90% of the project takes 90% of the time.
Then the last 10% takes another 90% of the time.
And it was that last 90% that was killing me. But that was a fun, geeky, geeky project.
Yeah. I remember at one point, I think we were still working together at the time, and you were building a database, a book database for your dad for his collector book.
10,000 books. Totally. So these are interesting things for a marketer to be doing.
How does that fit into how you market people's products?
Going back to the blueberry one, what was interesting was we were working with the CEO of a very small company that wanted this to be developed.
And it was interesting because if you think about the beginning of the technology adoption lifecycle, he was at the very beginning where he had this phenomenal product that could go into the field and help a company understand what the quality was as they were picking the blueberries.
Except it was complete disruption for what those growers wanted to do.
They're going, well, no, we just count at the end of the day how well we did.
He goes, you can know live what's happening right now. But it was disruption.
And he said he was having difficulty helping them understand the value of the product because it disrupted how they're doing.
And that's a classic marketing issue, which is introducing a new product into any base or segment.
You've got to figure out, OK, how much friction do you have to overcome to overcome that initial status or friction of adoption?
And so once again, it's just understanding what's the value of this in the eyes of the customer.
Yeah. So are you going to productize that?
I'm not. I'm done with that. I'm moving on. You know me.
I'm ADD. I'm going on. I really love kind of starting projects, getting them going.
And then it's like, OK, I'm done. Let's go. What else is going on? I've got to move on.
You just want to prototype. Yes. I love prototyping. That's awesome. Yeah.
Oh, yeah. You remember, I was really big into the Raspberry Pi and building stuff out of the Raspberry Pi for a while.
And I think if I remember right, we usually would have fun debates back and forth because you were more of an Arduino guy.
Yeah. Is that right? Yeah. So it's I guess that's the modern day sports team thing.
You know, I have my 49ers and you have your Raiders and that all over the boards.
That's cool. Hey, so one of the other things I remember about you is that you're a voracious reader.
You love reading and, you know, often would offer up some great books for me to read or others to read that work for you.
You know, thinking of the audience as, you know, the marketers here, what are some of the books that come to mind for you that you think are must reads for marketers and why?
That's it. I love that question because that's it. That is really critical to me because it and it's not there's not a long list.
I mean, to me, there's three fundamental books that I and a fourth, which ironically, you actually already mentioned inadvertently.
The first one is deals with crossing the chasm. But the better one of that, and your own CMO mentioned it in a which is inside the tornado, because inside the tornado takes the concepts of crossing the chasm and puts them into if you're here in your product life cycle, this is what you need to do.
If you're here, this is what you need to do. And so it's a nice way of helping people understand.
And I think that book is still incredibly important some 20 some years later.
So inside the tornado, absolutely. The innovators dilemma is the second one by Clayton Christian Clayton Christiansen, phenomenal man, phenomenal authors just recently passed away.
And um, but the innovators dilemma, I lived as a distribe salesperson for I was the drive sales guy for 10 years.
And, and it just talks about the issue that people face when you have a product that has half the features at one 10th the price.
And how do you sell that? And how do you create value for something that's missing something that everybody thinks is important, but then you realize no, actually, it's not that important.
Though I did have someone one time tell me he goes, Oh, we've we're innovators dilemma, we have twice the features at 10 times the price, or, you know, it's like, dude, you got to get the ratio all wrong, you know, no, it's like, it or, you know, it was just okay.
So make sure that innovators dilemmas is a great one. And the third one is a brand new or one that's been out only for about three or four years.
But B for B, and it's talking, it's really about us how services led companies can be successful, but you're a great practitioner of it without even knowing it, because B for B talks about this new salesman called auto.
And basically, it's auto renew auto sell, how do you you know, when it's basic, it's essentially helping companies understand the complete customer life cycle.
And then how do you how do you get them and make sure that they're happy when they when they first purchase the product?
And then as they as they use the product, how they maximize the use of the product, and then how you know, when they're renewing, making sure that they're happy through that.
And none of that is nefarious. I mean, you're Yeah, you're trying to get them buy more.
But that's because you believe your product has value for those customers.
And, and what it what it does point out is it says, Look, if you don't have people buying into your product and subscribing to your product early on, that's your problem, not the customer's problem.
And that's a, you know, I think that that's a great book.
And then the last one, which is a bonus, because you mentioned it, the challenger sale is a is a huge one, and one that's really important to me.
And, and that's the way I sold, but it's also a great way to help people understand how to market.
Yeah, no, that's a good point. But you know, your your description of the innovators dilemma.
You know, we talked about palm many times before, yeah, brings up one of the things we used to see a palm all the time where you would have a feature, which hardly anybody used, but nobody was comfortable buying the product unless it had it.
Yes. And and so in that particular case, it was the infrared port.
And they SD card slot. Hardly anybody use those. I mean, the geeky people all use them.
But beyond that, most people didn't write they had like three or four use cases.
And they and so but you couldn't bring out a product that didn't have it or else they would they would see it as it was a less than product.
And so you know, it like how do you how do you eventually sell that out?
And in their case, it was, you know, to basically create enough compelling other features for people to lean towards versus, you know, something I mean, it was it was always cool, you'd walk up to somebody and hold down the contact button, and it would beam them your business card.
And that was the coolest thing ever back then.
But yeah, that was that was a that was an interesting one. So yeah, that's cool.
You know, I you talk about, you know, the ongoing relationship with customers and showing lifetime value and keeping them engaged.
And, you know, for a company like ours, that's, that's super important, right?
I mean, absolutely. We sell something that when it works is somewhat invisible, much like when we're at Sonico, right?
In fact, Sonico is a really good example of that. Because, you know, with the next generation firewall, when you and I started, all they were selling was the hardware, right?
And then you would have to add on the services later.
And, you know, so you had like these dismal, you know, attach rates, because they didn't sell.
So what did what did you and I do? We went and we created Total Secure, right?
And so it was a bundle. And we sold the hell out of that thing.
I think if I remember right, there was like a third of their business at one point with the with these bundles.
And I think you even went as far as like doing like, bundles of bundles for like getting in, you know, for service providers to get them up and running.
And, you know, it was, it was incredible. But then we also did we, I used to call it the OnStar email, although, you know, it wasn't had anything to do with OnStar.
But I had a car that had OnStar. And every month, it would email me and tell me the health of the car and what I needed to think about when my next service was due and how many miles I put on whatever it was.
I always thought that was genius.
And so, you know, we built that, right? We built that as Sonovo.
We went and, you know, designed this whole newsletter around letting you know the health of your network based on the activity.
Here's how many threats we saw, here's how many, whatever.
And to your point, you know, that, you know, no longer being invisible and actually showing them the value that you're bringing on a monthly basis, enabled us to get astronomical, you know, renewal rates.
And it was because we get exactly what you're talking about.
We showed them the value, as opposed to, you know, just waiting and seeing if they noticed it on their own.
Well, it's funny you bring that one up, because I was thinking about that same example, just before this call.
And I remember, the reason why we ended up doing it was because they asked me to do a little bit of research on on to find out why we weren't selling service.
So I went back to the guy that we both know. And, and I said, the reason we're not selling service is because we're not selling service.
And, you know, he got red in the face, like he usually does. And, and I said, the point is, we're not even putting it out there for them to understand, you know, in other words, it's buried deep, deep, deep in the product list, and people will just see the hardware and go, okay, I'll buy the hardware.
And so it's, you have to make sure in marketing that you, you know, first, number one, make sure it's available, and make sure people are aware of it before you start trying to do any promotion, because sometimes they'll just go, oh, I didn't know I needed that.
Yeah, it's simple.
The reason you're not selling something is because you're not selling it.
I remember having a conversation with somebody, one of the security companies I worked with.
And they they were complaining about the amount of email that was being sent.
I mean, how many times have you heard this in our credit?
We're sending too much email, it's never email, actually, send too much spam, we send too much.
Yeah, it's always spam. But the point that I made that that it was funny, because it was one of those ones that just shut down the conversation was, so what you want me to do is not tell them when we release new security products that can make their network more secure?
It's like, well, no, I just don't want to send them so much email.
Like, yes, we're gonna we're gonna work on that. Yeah. But I think to your point, I think that's important that we that we help people appreciate the value of what they're getting, so that they want it, but also so they keep using it.
And exactly. It's paramount. Yeah. So, so when I was talking to a couple folks before today's interview, and one of them was saying, like, I don't know, maybe I'm into somebody, it was somebody in the team, and they're interested in a lot of different roles.
And they're early in their career.
And they're trying to decide, they're like, well, like, do I want to do channel marketing?
Like, you know, what does channel marketing like? So what kind of advice would you have for somebody like that?
Who's early in their career, they're trying to decide, do I do demand gen?
Do I do channel? Do I do branding?
Like, you know, I'm from as a channel marketer, an expert in channel marketing, what would your advice be to somebody like that?
A channel marketing for me was fun for two reasons.
One is you have to, it's more, you have to understand from a marketing perspective, that when you're saying you're creating value in the eyes of the customer, that that your customer is not the customer, when you're channel marketing, your customer is the channel.
And they have to look at it as a business proposition.
In other words, how are they going to make money, and it has to fit into their business.
And so what was really fun for me was understanding how people that were selling my product, how they made money, you know, and some were managed services, some were just resale.
And there's, and there's a complete complex business model to what they do and how they do it.
And they're really interesting people.
In other words, they take on your product, and they want to be able to the ones that you really work with a lot, they end up being the evangelist, they tell you what's so great about the product.
And so that it's a, it's a self fulfilling paradigm in that that you feel better because you're helping other people build their business when you're doing channel marketing, that are partner marketing, and so on.
And so that's one of the reasons why I really enjoy channel marketing.
And the second reason is, is just it's the best way for me to describe it is, as a friend of mine told me, she says, there's cat people, and there's dog people, you either enjoy being a channel marketer, you enjoy being in partner marketing, or you're a dog person, you know, it's like, not that much, not that big a deal to you.
And that's, and it's, and that is the way it is, I found a lot of people, they just look at me, and they just kind of cock their head to the side and say, I don't get what you do.
I don't understand how this works. I go, I don't understand how your stuff works either.
You know, it is, it is, it can be very difficult for a channel marketer, because it's not, it's not like, you know, if you're in a direct business, like, like we are, I can do a campaign, and then I can show a result and, you know, a very direct way of sales.
So much of what a channel marketer does, ends up helping to fuel the channel, but it's hard to say, you know, this webinar that we did, this event that we did, this white paper that we did, resulted in this amount of income, you have to kind of look at the whole thing.
And that's, that's always challenging. And I know, I know you worked over time to try and overcome that.
But I think it's, I think it's something that a lot of people face.
And, you know, that's, that's where the challenge comes in, where you almost need to be self, you know, attaboy, you know, just...
Yes, you absolutely, you nailed it. I, you know, it's just that, you know, it's, in the other interview I watched with Jake, they joked a little bit about attribution.
And, you know, how do you, you know, then that's on the direct side, you're dealing with attribution.
And then on the partner side, it's, it's really tough.
And so, yeah, it's not there. However, there are things, that's what you just learn how to do.
And you just understand, like, if you, if you go and put this in front of the partner in this way, and help them understand how it helps their business, they'll move mountains for you.
And Total Secure was a great example.
You know, and Total Secure was an incredible success. The partners loved it.
I created a kind of similar service like that at Cisco, the small business service.
And I remember being at a partner event, and we're on a big bus out to some, you know, hootenanny somewhere in Texas.
And the guy, he's sitting there and he goes, he goes, so what do you do?
I said, I'm part of small business team.
And he goes, Oh, my God, he goes, that small business service. He said, that is the most incredible thing I've ever seen is because that's made it so easy for us to add service onto every single product we sell.
And I said, Wow, thanks.
I that was my baby. And you know, and it's like, so those are the things that you just when you do, you just feel like, God, I finally, you know, you know, once or twice, you know, in your entire career, but that's okay.
You know, if you're as old as I am, you know, did you record it?
No. Can you say that again into my iPhone?
That's right. I listen to it every morning when I get up. Yeah. That's awesome.
Hey, you know, so so we don't have a lot of time. But you know, one of the questions I love asking people is, you know, talk a little bit about, you know, like a campaign that you did that, you know, we talked a couple of them.
But you know, campaign you did that you're super excited about, but then maybe maybe that or instead, you can talk a little bit about one that just tragically went wrong and was hilarious.
Because I think that was just as important. It is, though, it just went tragically, it didn't, it wasn't, it wasn't hilarious.
No, I did one, I actually, the the so total secure small business service were my successes that I had.
However, there was one where I, where I was within Cisco, and I'd been there about 10 years.
And I fell in love with the challenger sale. And I wanted to advocate it inside the company.
And the CMO knew that it was important to me. And I had some people supporting me.
Except, I just couldn't do it, I had just kind of fought enough battles inside of Cisco, because some, I mean, certain things take a lot of personal equity to overcome.
And that's, and I had lost my passion. And so that one never got off the ground, I kind of gave it a half hearted, you know, you guys really need to try this, it's going to be great, you know, and it's like, yeah, well, okay, whatever.
And the challenger sale, as one of the guys that was presenting it to us one time from CEB at the time, he goes, this is so meta, I'm using the challenger sale to help you understand the challenger sale.
And that's really what you had to do.
And only a geek from CEB could get away with that. And I couldn't.
And so therefore, you know, I wasn't successful. And I eventually left Cisco after that.
But the point of the story is, use your passion, to help make things happen.
We made Total Secure happen, because we believed in it. I mean, it was something that was really important.
I mean, Self Small Business Service was successful, because me and a small group of people believed, look, this is the way to go do it.
Simplify, simplicity beats complexity. And just, you know, it just makes it so much easier for people to purchase it.
And so that's the, that's the lesson.
But it was tragic. But you know, I, I wouldn't, I wouldn't hold that one too much as a negative.
I mean, how many times in our career have we have we tried to get something that we believe in off the ground, and no matter what, it's not gonna not gonna happen.
Sometimes companies aren't ready. Sometimes the sometimes we're wrong, by the way, you know, occasionally, you know, oh, look, we're almost out of time.
There's it on that one.
I popped my mic out. But no, I refuse to say that I was ever wrong. One of the guys I worked for, I'll give him credit was page Murray at Palm.
I remember he was working on a presentation.
He was he was our head marketing exec. And he's like, I'm gonna do completely different.
I'm going to prepare slides on everything I've done in my career wrong, so that people can understand what not to do.
I thought that was so much fun. That'd be a long presentation for me. Yeah. Yeah, that's, but you know, that's because you're not afraid to take a risk and to try something and then learn from it and improve.
And that's a good thing. And people, people need to do that.
Like I think it's a Facebook who says something along the lines of fail fast, fail often, but learn right.
So that's a that's a good thing.
So we're almost out of time. I got some fun questions we can go through here. And you know, just kind of lead us out.
The first one I just have to ask because you brought it up.
Are you a dog person or cat person? Actually, I'm a dog and cat person.
We don't have cats right now. We have two golden retrievers, but I actually love both species.
Nice. I'm more of a dog person, not by a lot, but a little bit. But I'm allergic to cats.
So cats are kind of out. Yeah. Coke or Pepsi? Coke. Always. Nice.
Ford or Chevy? Fix or repair daily? No way. Chevy. Okay. Marvel or DC? Oh, Marvel.
Absolutely. Nice. Yeah. All right. And we're out. We are clear. Thank you, sir.
That was good.